Avatar (Skt.=”descent”) In Hinduism, its offshoots, and in Sikhism the avatar is an incarnation of God who takes birth on earth to restore dharma.

In Hindu thought, God comes to earth to restore order whenever morality becomes egregiously imbalanced.

Jesus Christ is sometimes regarded by Hindus as one of a series of avatars. But in orthodox Hinduism, there are generally ten avatars of Vishnu.

The first is Matsu, a fish. His story parallels that of Noah‘s ark.

For some medieval Hindus like Sankara (and his followers) the Buddha is regarded as an evil avatar because he tried to sway the masses away from the sacred Veda.

But Hindu philosophy also interprets this in an overall positive light. Not unlike the Christian idea that God permits evil for a greater but not immediately apparent Good, many Hindus say the Buddha’s “deception” restored balance because Hindu priestly functions were becoming too hypocritical and elitist.

Hinduism, however, teaches that those who persistently continue to be deluded by evil are on a path to hell—but not an eternal hell, as with Christianity, because Hindus believe in reincarnation.

The Ten Traditional Hindu Avatars are:¹

1. Matsya: the fish
2. Kurma: the tortoise
3. Varaha: the boar
4. Narasimha: the man-lion
5. Vamana: the dwarf
6. ParashuRama: the axe wielder
7. Rama: Rama of the Ramayana
8. Krishna
9. Buddha
10. Kalki: the white horse, yet to incarnate

An avatar is also a term now commonly used to denote “a digital representation of a participant in an online environment.”² This kind of avatar is usually a graphical representation, such as the small icons visible in the “Community” and “Recent Comments” area at this blog. Interestingly enough, more Western people probably know about this meaning of avatar without really understanding its Asian roots. The same could probably be said of the 2009 Academy Award winning film “Avatar.”

¹ More detail can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashavatara

² Jonathon Keats, Control + Alt + Delete: A Dictionary of Cyberslang, Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2007, p. 11.

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